The Arlington Players are entering the last weekend of their production of Pippin, a show that promises magic and fantastic feats, with book by Roger Hirson and music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. The original Broadway production was directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse in 1972 to much acclaim, and the show went on to become a musical theater classic, performed countless times with a national tour as recently as 2016. With such beginnings, putting on a show like Pippin is no small task, and this particular version could have used more finesse, but the material has a life of its own and the intention of the story shines through.
The show opens with the popular song, “Magic to Do,” and introduces the audience to a troupe of actors, led by the Leading Player (Erich DiCenzo). They are performing the tale of a young prince, Pippin (Jonathan Gruich), on a journey to find meaning to his existence. The Leading Player has something of an authoritarian role and guides Pippin (who he explains is playing this role for the first time) from one experience to the next, all the while promising the audience a spectacular finale. Through the course of the show, Pippin tries different jobs and lifestyles but time after time, regardless of success or failure, he feels empty.
Maybe by choice of the director, Christopher Dykton, the show has a campy feel to it. This ensures many laughs, but takes away from the sincerity of the show’s over-arching theme of the constant struggle to be happy and find substance in life. There is no real separation from when the Players are themselves or the characters they are trying to portray; any genuine growth or reflection during Pippin’s search is diminished due to this lack of distinction.
There were also moments when the stage felt too empty, which could have been helped by more focused lighting. The set included two towers that were moved about the stage to mark a change in scene or represent different locations but, while having a variety of levels in theater can be a good thing, the actors did not seem to have an easy way to reach it and watching them struggle to pull themselves up and onto the platforms was a distraction.
All that being said, the ensemble did a good job of keeping their energy high. DiCenzo, as the Leading Player, had a sensual mystique that worked well, and was a fantastic dancer. Gruich, as Pippin, was endearing and I pulled for him to succeed at every turn
Melanie Jennings-Bales was Berthe, Pippin’s spunky grandmother, and sang the fun “No Time at All,” and Carla Crawford played Pippin’s conniving stepmother, who dotes on her buffoon of a son, Lewis (Sterling Beard).
Pippin’s quest for meaning and happiness is one that everyone can relate to and although The Arlington Player’s production of Pippin is not a home-run, there are some great moments (“Prayer for a Duck” with Gruich and Aidan Chomicki, as Theo, is quite funny) and the beauty and magic of the show itself remains.
Running Time: Two hours, with one 15 minute intermission
Pippin plays through October 21, 2017, at The Arlington Players performing at Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre – 125 South Old Glebe Road, in Arlington, VA. Tickets may be purchased at the door or online.